$64 million question: To exercise or not in the presence of dirty air

200px-NYCDOT_SR-1801.svg[1]Air pollution and what affect this has on human health and what role exercise may play, is an area of discussion I am extremely interested in.

So, should a person engage in aerobic activity if one resides in a location where air pollution is present, like where I live in Fresno, California, where air is often either unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups?

So, I found this Huffington Post article, “Exercise and Air Pollution” and in it writer Ben Greenfield provides insight.

Greenfield noted, “According to a 2004 Australian review of pollution studies worldwide, during exercise, even very minimal concentration of air pollutants can damage the lungs.”

The triathlon and fitness expert then goes on to explain how this happens.

“This happens because harmful particles from the air can get past the nasal hairs, the body’s first line of defense. Ultimately, these particles end up in the lungs thus causing inflammation and irritation. These particles sometimes end up in the bloodstream as well. When this occurs, the risk for heart attack and stroke then increases. So since working out means you’ll have to breathe deeper, then more of these particle pollutants get to pass through your nasal filtering.”

That’s the not-so-good news. Question is: Is there a bright side in any of this? Greenfield offers some surprising and encouraging perspective.

In this regard, mentioned were three different studies. One involved mice while the other two involved people. The results of all three studies revealed that exercise, even if done in the presence of air pollution, is better on the body than had no exercise been done at all. At least, this is what my takeaway here is.

“It’s no secret that the higher the air pollution in the area, the higher the hospital admissions for patients seeking relief or treatment from cardiovascular and respiratory issues as well,” Greenfield pointed out. “But on the other hand, the health benefits of exercise seem to more than just balance out the harmful effects of air pollution.”

One related study in particular, a University of British Columbia study conducted in the school’s Environmental Physiology Lab, is quite telling.

Wrote Greenfield: “The research utilized two groups of individuals for seven straight weeks. The first group was made to cycle at various intensities while exposed to diesel engine exhaust. The second group, meanwhile, performed similar activity though in an environment with clean, filtered air. The results provide hope as the subjects made to cycle in polluted air appears to have adapted their bodies, and in fact showed signs of combating the harmful effects of pollution the way that the mice in the previous study did.”

The triathlon and fitness expert was also quick to point out that more research in this area is needed yet at the same time expressed in no uncertain terms that the research done to date might help ease worries, “…as it appears going out to exercise is better than no exercise at all when living in a polluted area.”

Related to this, a concern that I have as far as air pollution is concerned on the person who exercises in its presence, has to do with what the implication(s) is (are) long-term.

Key considerations, meanwhile, such as when to exercise (as in what time of day and under what circumstances – weather-related or otherwise), where to exercise, the importance of knowing about the levels of air pollution in an area or city affected by such, understanding what kinds of consumables (edibles) are beneficial to health, and being educated on things like wearing protective (filtering) gear in helping reduce one’s exposure to pollution, can be quite helpful to people who exercise in the presence of air pollution. And as it has to do with these, in rounding out the article Greenfield provides several helpful pointers.

In my opinion, it is better to be in the know when it comes to what’s involved regarding exercising in pollution’s presence, than to be completely in the dark on this. Greenfield’s article, in this sense, is not only apropos but chock full of relevant and substantive info.

– Alan Kandel

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